Old Books Cafe - so named because of its bookcases full of books for cafe users to read, or purchase whilst drinking their coffee, had been taken over by a new owner.
At a back table of this newly refurbished cafe, sat Detective Inspector George Linden.
He was unimpressed with the new owner’s removal of the old paintings that had always adorned the walls of this, his favourite café, the books were gone too.
They’d repainted the café in metallic colours. On the walls now hung large framed photographs of local town views.
The inspector sipped his coffee reassured that despite cosmetic changes, the quality of the coffee remained good.
A puzzling pattern of crimes at a town garage was on his mind. A white Ford Transit had frequently filled up with diesel fuel on random evenings at a garage and driven off at speed without paying. At the garage, only two witnesses had seen the van on different dates but each quoted conflicting letters of the van’s number plate.
The waitress, a young pretty girl hovered around the empty tables. She was waiting to collect his coffee cup and wipe the table clean, as he’d sat there some time, thinking.
An elderly couple read paperbacks beside two empty plates. Behind them on the wall, was another large framed photograph, this one looked to be of more recent date because it showed modern vehicles and the location looked familiar to him.
“Finish your coffee, we are closing now,” said an aproned, stern faced woman, folding her thick arms beside him.
Inspector Linden momentarily released the grip on his cup and the stern woman snatched it up immediately. The inspector left the table to look at the modern scene photograph.
The young pretty waitress was clearing more tables and she noticed the inspector studying the photograph.
“Nice photograph isn’t it?” she said, smiling.
“Yes. When was it taken?” he asked. The elderly couple, prepared to leave.
“I don’t know, the café owner would know.”
The inspector asked the elderly man: “Excuse me sir, might I borrow your glasses for a moment?”
The elderly couple handed them to Inspector Linden who used them like a magnifying glass to study an area of the photograph for several minutes.
“You, all leave now!” boomed the voice of the arms folded woman, who the waitress whispered to Linden was the café owner who’d taken the photograph.
The Inspector thanked the elderly gentleman and returned his glasses.
“I’m told you’re the photographer of this image. When did you photograph this beautiful town garage scene ma’am?”
She sighed, pointed to the clock, glared at Inspector Linden and raised her voice.
“I haven’t time to waste discussing my photograph, we are closed! Everyone out of the café. I have another job to go to, come along!”
Inspector Linden showed his police badge, and declared: “I’m borrowing this photograph - it will be returned. I’m Detective Inspector George Linden and it’s needed for our ongoing investigation.”
The stern woman refused and protested against its removal.
“No, I’ll call the police!”
To which Inspector Linden replied: “Please do. Their help to carry this heavy framed photo, I’d appreciate!”
The Inspector’s Triumph TR4A boot was large enough to accommodate the framed photograph. On arrival he parked his British Racing Green Triumph in the Police Station car park. Police constable Woods helped him carry the photograph inside.
“Look at the garage forecourt on this photograph Woods, and tell me what vehicle that man’s filling up at the pump.”
“A Ford transit van, sir.”
“Correct Woods. Read its number plate. Here’s a magnifying glass.”
PC Woods quoted the van’s number plate in full but then stopped and said: “That’s strange sir, one of its letters is facing the wrong way, a letter ‘R’, its been reversed like a mirror image, perhaps the whole photo has been printed back to front, sir.”
Detective Inspector Linden answered: “My initial thoughts too Woods, however when I re-considered this it’s clearly not, or else all the numbers and letters of the vehicle’s number plates would be reversed the same, but they aren’t.”
“You’re right sir. How odd that it’s been made one letter in error like that. The number plate maker’s mistake presumably, sir.”
Inspector Linden nodded and said: “I looked closely at the photograph to determine who’d made the plate, and the maker’s name appears at the bottom of the number plate can you read it?”
“Yes, it’s the garage he’s filling up at sir.”
“Indeed, and that garage wouldn’t make faulty number plates for their customers. Their customers would reject them because they are a professional firm, Woods.”
“Yes sir, so how’s it happened?”
“I’m certain the man filling up is the transit van diesel thief. If we go to the garage, we’ll discover a stern faced woman working part-time there on the till. She’s the same person who owns the café, and is the photographer of this scene.
“Her boyfriend is the transit van diesel thief, who she’s taken a cheeky photograph of, in this garage scene of his crimes.
“She’s been producing false number plates at work without her employers being aware.
“Reckon that’s how she got a letter reversed in her haste to not get caught, making false plates secretly there for her boyfriend’s transit.
“I bet her fingerprints are all over that numberplate.
“But her biggest mistake was putting this framed photograph of the garage scene on public view in her café, and being unaware it’s one of my favourite haunts to relax in.
“Come on, Woods. We’re making two arrests. The stern woman at the garage who’s just started her evening shift, and later her boyfriend when he arrives in his transit there, expecting to steal more diesel fuel tonight.”